Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will play one another for the 15th time, the fourth time in postseason, in the AFC championship game Sunday between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos.
1) The two future Hall of Famers have a reputation for being perfectionists who have been known to scream at teammates publicly, sometimes profanely. But this game probably isn’t going to come down to them. Flash back to late November, when the Patriots won 34-31 in overtime on Wes Welker’s botched punt return.
2) This rivalry is closer than it might seem. Yes, they have a fairly lengthy history. Yes, Brady is 10-4 against Manning. Brady got out to a fast start, going 6-0, but since the 2004 playoffs, he and Manning (Broncos and Colts) are 4-4. Yes, Brady is 2-1 when it matters most, in the playoffs. But Manning won that last meeting between the two in 2007 in the AFC championship game. The final score was 38-34 and Indianapolis went on to win the Super Bowl. In championship games head to head, the quarterbacks are 1-1; the Patriots’ other win came in a divisional-round game.
Last week, Brady became the first player to pass for over 6,000 yards in the postseason; he’s at 6,147. And Manning? He should join Brady in that little club this weekend. He has passed for 5,909 yards in postseason games. It’s that close. It’s that great.
3) Manning gets all the love. For one thing, he is infinitely funnier, whether he’s explaining “Omaha” or spoofing a United Way ad on “Saturday Night Live.”
In a poll of more than 320 NFL players, Manning was voted the most respected player in the league. Which is nice. Brady was third, behind Andrew Luck and joked Thursday that maybe it was because he can be a “pain in the butt” to his teammates with his relentless study and drive. “Maybe it was some of my receivers who don’t like me,” he kidded. “I can see that.”
Where it matters, though, Brady has the edge. The Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman polled eight NFL personnel people, asking who is the better quarterback right now and it wasn’t close. Brady won, 7-1, because the perception is that he has done more with less talent around him and Manning has done less with more talent. Who, exactly, would have bet on Brady playing for a Super Bowl spot without Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Brandon Spikes?
4) The Patriots may have evolved into a power running team, as LeGarrette Blount showed last weekend, but would anyone be surprised if Bill Belichick and Brady cooked up a plan in which Brady chucked the ball 50 times, even though the Pats are 3-0 since emphasizing the run? Still, Denver hasn’t exactly been Brady’s personal playground.
As for Manning, who knows what he was thinking up late in the season as he soaked his ankle while following practice with an iPad and his helmet?
5) Will there be a Brady vs. Manning XVI? Maybe. Manning will turn 38 this year and, although an exam of his neck will determine whether he can play next season, Broncos executive John Elway expects he will return. Brady is 37 and says “I love playing football for the New England Patriots.” Still, it can’t go on forever, so savor it.